Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Let's Talk About Money, Pt. 2

Pay God First.

That is the topic I have spent the last couple of weeks thinking about. How and why we give, what we give to, and what we should do are all things we desperately need to consider in our lives filled with ever-increasing amounts of stuff.

Average giving from the latest study I've seen (2008), shows that church giving is at around 2.4% of a person's income.


Think about that number for a bit.

That is less than many pay in taxes. That is less than many pay for cable TV. And it is less than the average family cell phone bill.

Does anything seem wrong with that picture? Because the Bible has a lot to say about money. Mostly, it talks about the dangers of money, where our money should go, and how it is all God's to begin with. So when we (might) give 2.4% of our income, can we really say we are giving God our best, and trusting that He will take care of us?

I would venture to say that we cannot (truthfully) say that if this is the case.

So let's look at a few excuses we give, and what a Christian response should be.

1) I won't have enough to pay my bills!
Let's start with the most obvious one first. Now, while it is true that if you make an extremely small amount of money, it will be difficult for you to give much. It does not, however, mean you cannot give. The poor woman in Mark 12 gave all she had, and it was only 2 copper coins. Her faith told her that God was worth it.

But most of us are not in that situation. At all. If you have cable TV, internet, a cell phone, a car, and plenty of food on the table, you should not use this excuse. Is God worth giving up the things we want in order to give the things we need, or not? That is the question we will have to answer.

2) I always forget!
You forget? You sound exactly like me. We are terrible (and I mean terrible) and remembering to write a check and have it ready. However, "forgetting" is a pretty terrible excuse for not giving to God. It is pretty fantastically useless. So either set an alarm, write it and have it in your wallet for the next time it is time to give, or spend it directly on what the church is needing. But do not neglect the needs of the church. Remember, it is the bride of Christ. It is important we take care of her.

3) Tithing is so Old Testament. I "give as it is in my heart to give."
To this I would ask; do you really? Tithing may be Old Testament, but it was also the starting point for giving back then. God's people did not just give 10% to God. That was just what they gave officially. Israel was expected to go far above and beyond that in their giving and helping others. If we are God's children, who have the mind of Christ, who have been saved by Him who gave up everything, can we not begin giving well beyond what we currently do?

Those are just a few excuses. I challenge you to ask yourself what your excuse is, and whether that it is truly a worthwhile reason, or a lie Satan tells you so that you do not give as you should. It is scary, but in the end it will be worth it.

Now I want to switch gears a little bit. I want to talk about savings and retirement. It is not a subject I like to speak about, because it is something that is very private for most people. However, if we are going to talk about giving to God, I do not believe I can do that without writing about this as well.

Savings and retirement are not bad things. As I said in the last post they are not evil in-and-of themselves. Used properly, they can be very good things. However, they are very, very easy to misuse and excuse ourselves from giving to God.

Now saving for a rainy day is one thing. I believe it is good to put some money back in case it is needed. However, when we store up for ourselves so much that we quit trusting in God to provide for us, can we say that we are doing His will?

I honestly don't know how to answer that.

David Ramsey is a very popular "christian money guy." Some of his ideas are great. The envelopes, the immediate emergency fund, snowballing debt to pay it all off. Those are great ideas.

Then I got to the part where he said "invest 15% of income."

When the church is giving on average 2.4% to the church, he comes along and says to invest 15%. More than most people give to God at the high end of the spectrum. In fact, in his "Baby Steps" to building wealth, he doesn't get to the giving part until the last one - "Step 7: Build Wealth and Give!"

To me, that is deeply disturbing.

My gut tells me that there is something wrong with the way much of modern Christianity views retirement and savings. We call it stewardship, but a lot of times it seems more like we are stewarding for ourselves rather than stewarding for God. And that does not sit well with me.

Right now, I do not know where to draw the line between savings and greed. I believe that line will be different for everybody. But I do believe that it is something we should struggle with, and that we ignore it at our own great peril. So I will offer a suggestion that you may take or leave.

Go ahead and save, but don't save for you. Save for those situations where you see God's ability to use the money you have. If there is an emergency or a personal/family need then go ahead and dip into it, but see it for what it is: God's money first, that He lets you use as necessary. If it continues to grow without seeing a need, great! But be ready for when the time comes where God allows a situation to come where you are in position to fulfill a great need. Remember, it is God's money, not yours, and when it is time to help the church or a person or a family or a mission, be sure to do so with joy, knowing that God has enabled you to do such a thing for His kingdom.

This has been a hard post to write. I am not claiming to have all the answers, but I hope to have at least cleared some of the air and given you something to think about. I know I've given myself some things to think about as well.

It is all God's. I pray that both you and I remember that as we move forward in our lives, and that, whatever decisions we come to, it will be to the glory of God.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Let's Talk About Money, pt. 1

I have a feeling this post may step on a lot of toes (including my own). Be ready though. The next post will probably step on toes just as much, so fair warning. :-)

I've been struggling with the concept of money recently.

It is not that I am struggling financially. We've actually been pretty OK in that area. I don't look at my bank account squeamishly and with fear. I just check it to make sure that what I think is in there really is in there.

But I've been struggling with the concept of money, and what God expects of me with it.

I'll be straight with you about this: we don't make a ton of money.
I'll also be straight with you about this: we make a ton of money.

Those two statements are not mutually exclusive. In terms of where we live and in terms of vast swaths of America, we do not make all that much. We make plenty to get by and have a couple of nice things. Our cars are about 12 years old and towards the end of their lifespans, we have had the same TV for over 5 years, my PS3 is at least 7 years old, and we have a small house with one bathroom for 4 people. Most of the things we have are nice enough, but they are also relatively old.

We are totally OK with that. No objections there.

However, compared to the rest of the world, we live in extreme luxury.

We own a house with a large yard that has A/C and heat. We own 2 cars and a TV, 2 computers, and we eat good food every single day. Oh, I forgot to mention we each have at least enough clothes for 2 weeks, and electricity as well as running water.

We are rich beyond the wildest dreams of most of the world.

So let's talk about money.

Let's really, really talk about money.

Matt. 6:19-21
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroy and thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Luke 12:33-34
Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Luke 14:33
So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be my disciple.
(Read v.25-33 to get the full effect of this one.)

Our culture glorifies large bank accounts and large retirement accounts. We call it "planning for the future," and "being good stewards" of our money. Christians and churches do this as well.

But for the life of me I can't find anything in the Bible that talks about "saving for the future" outside of Proverbs. Now Proverbs is inspired, and I (obviously) not arguing against that, but it is definitely not the only place God speaks about money. The most commonly used verse in Proverbs I have found is the comparison to the ant in 6:6, who saves for winter, and the sluggard who does not.

Notice, however, that the ant saves for that winter. He is not saving for the next 30 winters. He is making sure that he will have enough for that one specific period.

I really have zero problem with that.

But I do have to ask the question; should "retirement" and savings really be our financial goal, or should serving God, giving to the poor, and supporting His kingdom be our financial goal?

Just FYI, I really don't like that question. That usually means I need to ask that question again.

Should retirement and savings be our financial goal, or should serving God, giving to the poor, and supporting His kingdom be our financial goal?

I'm pretty sure its the latter.

Please don't misunderstand. I am not saying that saving, even saving for retirement, is an evil in-and-of itself. I have known a number of people who have saved, retired, and used the time available to them to serve God in a number of ways and with everything they have. They also continue to be generous with their retirement money, refusing to neglect those in need for fear they won't continue to have enough for the future.

That being said, I know more people who look to retirement as a time when they can sit back, relax, and cruise to the end of life. That is not OK. That is not what God calls us to do.

There is no such thing as retiring from Christianity.

Jesus says be faithful unto death (Rev. 2:10) and Paul says to run the race to win (I Cor. 9:24), which means we must run it to the very end. If we stop short of the finish, we have lost. If we tell ourselves that our dues are paid and we no longer need to put our faith into action for Christ, we have lost.

So perhaps we should look at our money from the following perspective:
Pay God first (spreading His kingdom and helping those in it).
Pay others second (helping the poor and needy, providing for our families, paying taxes).
Pay ourselves last (our wants, needs, and desires).

If we use this formula, the chances are very good we will not go wrong. In fact, if we live our entire lives like this; God First, Others Second, Self Last, we will find that not only will our lives become turned upside down, but our lives will make a whole lot more sense as Christians.

Over the next few weeks we are going to look at these three items. What it means to truly use our money in a Godly way, and how we can do that. I am going to do my best to be truly, fully Biblical. I plan on trying to strip away everything that culture and people have said in order to say what the Bible truly says. I pray I will be successful in doing so. 

Jesus wants to turn our lives upside down and completely remake us. This includes everything about us, including our money. It is why we need to talk about it.

I hope you will join me on my journey, and that you will join me in prayer that it will be a good, full, and Godly one.